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Michael Jackson Verdict

Aired June 13, 2005 - 16:35   ET


BLITZER: Ted Rowlands, how many people have gathered -- these are live pictures. We see the attorney that -- I assume these are live pictures -- the attorney going through the metal detector, Tom Mesereau, Thomas Mesereau, the criminal defense attorney that's been leading the criminal defense. He's already inside. Obviously, he got to the courthouse a lot more quickly, Jeffrey Toobin, than did Michael Jackson, who's still on his way.
TOOBIN: And there is Tom Mesereau, as he often did during the trial, waiting to receive the motorcade carrying his client, Michael Jackson. And there was certainly a memorable scene during the day that Michael Jackson was late for court, where all of us saw Mesereau talking urgently into his cell phone, begging Michael Jackson to get to court. That was the day, of course, that he showed up in his blue pajamas.

And here, it obviously seems like there is no -- he's looking at his watch, but it's not the same kind of crisis in terms of, you know, will the judge be angry? Everybody knows he's on his way, and the -- looks like we're proceeding more or less according to the schedule that the judge set out.

BLITZER: So he's there, basically, Jeffrey, to be on site to receive Michael Jackson, to escort him, to walk in with him once he's there?

TOOBIN: Absolutely, and it is really a physical connection between defense lawyer and client. You know, at this moment, defense lawyers, you often see, you know, putting their arms around clients. They are -- you know, the legal part of their job is done, but it is an emotional and almost physical kind of support that's given now.

BLITZER: Who are the people surrounding him, Ted Rowlands, Thomas Mesereau? Do you know these individuals?

ROWLANDS: Yes, the woman next to Thomas Mesereau is Susan Yu. She is one of his co-counsel. She did most of the briefing, argued a few things outside the presence of the jury. Behind Mesereau, with the glasses, underneath the tree is Bob Sanger, and he did a lot of the arguments, most of the technical things. He argued a lot of the motions and handled some of the witnesses, but Thomas Mesereau handled 90 percent of the important witnesses, if you will, in this case.

The other individual is an investigator, a local man that they hired to basically do interviews throughout the trial, and he would come in and out of court every day. You can see the motorcade over on the side of the other screen. They are still on U.S. Highway 101, but they are getting close to Santa Maria. Obviously, they're in cell phone communication with Tom Mesereau and the defense team, and they will be exiting fairly soon here. I can't tell where they are specifically in terms of exits, but they have entered the greater Santa Maria area, where you're seeing exit options. Presumably they're about five minutes or less away from entering here. And this is a daily sort of ritual, if you will, where Tom Mesereau either escorts Michael Jackson out after the day, or goes out and actually meets him as he enters -- when he gets to the courthouse.

A lot more at stake here today. When Michael Jackson leaves these SUVs, there's a chance that he may not be able to get back into his black carry and be carried away. He may be in a sheriff's van, depending on how things go.

That said, if he's found not guilty, one can imagine the type of party atmosphere which will be outside this courthouse.

I must say, Wolf, that today, or right now it's not just fans. There's a lot of people from the Santa Maria community are obviously coming to the courthouse here. People who are not holding Michael Jackson signs, some people that obviously knew that the verdict is coming, and they have made their way here to the courthouse as well.

BLITZER: Bob Shapiro, I assume you know Tom Mesereau, the famed criminal defense community out in California being a relatively small group. Do you know him?

SHAPIRO: I know him quite well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell us -- talk a little bit about him and how he's done representing this high-profile pop star.

SHAPIRO: I think he's done an outstanding job. He is very, very accomplished. He's very smart. He is an expert cross-examiner, and Michael Jackson got the best defense that was available.

The difficult thing for Tom in this case was that last witness on the videotape, and the decision whether or not to have Michael Jackson take the witness stand. Even though that's the client's decision, usually the lawyers have -- dictate really what's going to happen. And in this case, he was really in a very, very difficult position, because I know from previous experience, where I have been on the other side suing Michael Jackson, and my partner Skip Miller actually tried a case in the same courthouse against Michael Jackson, that he is a very, very poor witness.

And it would seem that if he did take the witness stand, that might just be the end of him on his own testimony. However, there's a big risk in not taking the witness stand. First, Mesereau told the jury they would hear from Michael Jackson. And in a case like this, we're all accustomed now to the television term "he said/he said" or "he said/she said," and in this case it's only "he said." BLITZER: And when he said in the opening statement, Thomas Mesereau, Bob, that the jury would hear from Michael Jackson, the implication was they would hear from him on the stand, but they did hear from him in that video, that documentary that they released, which I suppose he could have been referring to in his opening statement. Is that fair?

SHAPIRO: I think that would be a nice way to put spin on it, Wolf, but I think when he made his opening statement, he made a commitment to the jury that they would hear Michael Jackson from the witness stand in that courtroom.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: You know, I agree with Bob, that that was a rare misstep by Tom Mesereau during this trial. I too thought Mesereau really did an excellent job. You know, his cross-examinations of the accuser, of the accuser's mother, were really superb, but there really was no reason to promise that Michael Jackson was going to testify, and the defense -- I'm sorry, the prosecution, in their summation, made much of Mesereau's failure to deliver some of his promises made in opening statements.

But I think Mesereau made the only possible choice he could in keeping Michael Jackson off the witness stand. I just thought he would have been a terrible witness. As Bob points out, he has been a terrible witness in previous civil cases, but also, I mean, this is a guy who has said on camera that he thinks it's appropriate for 40- year-old men to sleep in the same bed with 12-year-old boys. Imagine trying to explain a comment like that to a jury, which is what he would have to do if he took the witness stand. It is simply inexplicable to most people that someone could think that's normal behavior. And for him to have to explain it at length, which he would have had to do, would have sunk his case right there.

BLITZER: There's been some suggestion, Bob Shapiro, that the guidelines, the instructions that the judge gave the jury, nearly 100 pages, were so technical, were so complicated, that it almost made the life of the jury impossible. I don't know if you saw a piece -- there was a long piece in "The New York Times" on this just over this past weekend, and in the end, the jury might simply have to neglect -- to go -- to understand fully all those instructions that the judge gave them. What do you make of that argument?

SHAPIRO: I think it's correct. The jury instructions in California are legal fictions. For example, the jury is instructed not to consider the fact that the defendant did not take the witness stand in the case. Jurors subconsciously are going to consider it, and in this case, as Jeff correctly pointed out, since it was mentioned in the opening statement, the prosecutors were allowed to tell the jury, well, you were told you were going to hear from Mr. Jackson, and you didn't.

So that is going to be a very difficult instruction for the jury to adhere to.

The second...

TOOBIN: There is another -- I'm sorry, go ahead, Bob.

SHAPIRO: Go ahead, Jeff, I'm sorry -- the second thing that I thought that is going to be very difficult for the jury is on the prior acts, the standard that the jury will consider is more likely than not, a civil standard, whereas in the case in chief, it's a criminal standard, and it's very, very difficult to separate those two types of instructions.

And the final thing is that I don't know anyone who can really articulate the definition of reasonable doubt.

BLITZER: The argument that some have made, Jeffrey, is that those instructions that the judge gave were more to cover his own record, if you will, if there is an appeal, and it was written in sort of legal jargon, as opposed to something that the average lay person sitting on that jury could really understand.

TOOBIN: Well, I think as Bob points out, that's more of a systemic failure in California and in the whole country. I mean, the whole subject of legal instructions is -- is a very vexing one, because they are not written in ways that normal people exchange thoughts and just talk. I mean, just to emphasize one thing Bob said, you know, the evidence about the four -- the five other allegations against him, part of the jury instructions is, don't take that evidence as proof that he did it, but take it as showing whether he had a propensity to do it or not. Those are not normal ways of thinking. I mean, you either allow the evidence and let jurors to draw whatever conclusions you want, or you don't allow the evidence. But the instructions are merely confusing.

And I think, you know, one of the values of these high-profile cases, is they bring out problems in all cases, and one of the problems that jurors often speak about is the jury instructions are simply very hard to understand, and this case certainly showed why that's true.

BLITZER: We see the motorcade now from this aerial shot stuck in a little traffic, as it gets closer and closer to Santa Maria and the courthouse in California. We are presumably only moments away from the motorcade getting there, Michael Jackson walking out, being received by Thomas Mesereau, his attorney, and the other criminal defense attorneys representing Michael Jackson. They'll walk into the courthouse, go through the metal detectors, as they have during the 14 weeks of the trial, the testimony, the arguments.

Our man on the scene from day one has been Ted Rowlands. He's of course there right now. Give us a little flavor, are people showing up by the carloads, Ted?

ROWLANDS: Oh, yeah, the crowd has gotten much larger over the past hour, as the judge in this case feared would happen. They wanted to get this verdict read as soon as possible. The motorcade right now is only about a block away. They're going to be making a left-hand turn here and then entering the courthouse area. So we're about a minute away, or less. They're going to turn here and then take a right into the courthouse. And they have four SUVs. Presumably a good portion of the Jackson family will be with Michael Jackson as he steps out and walks in to hear his fate. They are now just outside the courthouse, and the first van should be making its way in. You can see the Santa Maria police escort, which has been the case not just today, but throughout the trial, bringing the Jackson motorcade to and from the courthouse.

BLITZER: We've seen those SUVs making their way, winding up. They're about to stop, and we see Michael Jackson fans. Are there also Michael Jackson opponents who gather out there as well, or just his fans, Ted?

ROWLANDS: On any given day, there are some vocal Michael Jackson opponents, but they're outnumbered 99 percent to 1 percent. As you see the first SUV pull up and step out the -- and here comes Michael Jackson now in one of these cars.

BLITZER: You know what we're going to do, Ted? We're going to just listen a little bit, see if our microphones can pick up any of the sound, any of the exchanges. I don't know if that's possible, but we do see that ubiquitous umbrella going up to help protect Michael Jackson from the sun, or presumably other aspects as he walks in.

Let's just listen briefly if we can get some of the sound from what may be going on.

CROWD: Innocent! Innocent! Innocent!

BLITZER: And there he is, Michael Jackson being escorted inside, surrounded by his father and other family members; his bodyguards are there as well. Michael Jackson walking in. Thomas Mesereau, with the white hair, his criminal defense attorney, his lead attorney, as they go inside.

Let's listen a little bit longer.

Ted Rowlands, we've seen this happen on so many different occasions during the course of these 14 weeks of this trial, it's a lot different though, today.

ROWLANDS: Yeah, and you know, it may not seem that way, the pictures, they seem the same, but I could tell you, at the courthouse, it is night and day. The emotion, just watching him get out. There's Jermaine Jackson with his hand on the metal detector there, next to Thomas Mesereau shooting through. You see Janet Jackson and LaToya Jackson going through there as well in front of attorney Bob Sanger. The emotion, just the emotion of seeing him pop out and embrace Susan Yu, his mother, who has been here every day and heard some very graphic testimony, you can tell that there's a lot of emotion here, a lot at stake here.

A lot of people didn't think Michael Jackson would show up. People thought that maybe he would flee the country, but here he is, he's here to find out which way this jury is going to decide whether or not he is guilty or innocent. There is Janet Jackson walking through the metal detector.

There are a certain amount of seats inside the courtroom. Obviously, they've decided who will get which seats, and they are making their way in, slowly but surely.

BLITZER: Bob Shapiro, give us a little flavor of what's going through your mind as you watch all of this. And just to remind our viewers, we're only minutes away from the verdict in the Michael Jackson trial.

SHAPIRO: Unbelievable anxiety and anticipation at this point in time. When you walk into the courtroom, they'll be looking at all the jurors coming out, seeing if anybody looks towards Michael Jackson, if there's any hint of a smile. They will also be sitting there.

And something in California that happens, and in most states, is that the judge will ask the foreman if they've reached a verdict. We know they have reached a verdict. The judge will then ask those verdict forms to be turned over to the bailiff, and the bailiff will give them to the judge. The judge will then review those verdict forms, but will not announce the verdict. Again, people will be looking at the judge for his reactions. Then he will hand it to the court clerk, who will then read the verdict as Michael Jackson stands up.

After the reading of the verdict, the lawyers will be asked whether or not they want the jury polled as to whether or not this was their verdict. Generally, if there's a conviction, the defense will ask for a polling. And then comes the moment of truth, when the judge makes a decision whether or not to remand Michael Jackson or let him go pending sentencing, if in fact he is convicted.

BLITZER: And Jeffrey, if in fact he is convicted on some of these so-called lesser charges, he might let him go out on bail.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. If he's convicted only of the misdemeanors, for example, I think it is virtually certain that he will be allowed to remain out on bail. You know, one of the folklores of trials is that if the jury comes in and doesn't look at the defendant, that means they are convicting him. If they look at him, that means they are acquitting him. That's actually proven pretty reliable in my experience, and those in the courtroom will let us know whether that plays true to form today.

BLITZER: Can the jurors, Jeffrey -- and I'll let Bob weigh in on this as well -- if they walk in and let's say they're sympathetic to Michael Jackson, sort of give him a wink and a nod, and sort of a smile and say, you know, relax?

TOOBIN: Sure, they absolutely can, and it does happen. And even the issue of polling the jury is important. That's not merely a formality, because if in the course of polling a jury -- usually the way it works is the judge says, is that your verdict? And each juror says yes. But if a juror says no, I disagree, the judge will send them back in to continue their deliberations. So the polling of the jury usually turns out to be a formality, but it has deep legal significance, and it has happened that it's led to different verdicts.

BLITZER: Bob Shapiro, did you get any hint whatsoever before the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial, from the jurors after they walked in, before the jury verdict was read, what they might decide?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely not. They came in poker-faced. They knew that every action that they took was going to be reported worldwide, and I think this jury will do the exact same thing. I think they will walk in, they will look straight ahead, they will show no emotion whatsoever, and will act in a real professional way.

TOOBIN: And if they do, that would be very much consistent with how they have behaved during this trial. This is a jury that's known that it's been under scrutiny. This jury knows that reporters are sitting there every day. So I think they've gone out of their way, even during very graphic and emotional testimony, not to betray their feelings. And as a result, those of us who watch them, have very little idea which way they're leaning.

BLITZER: That's obviously clear right now. We have no idea what the verdict is going to be, and given the nature, the history of California juries, I think it would be -- it would be ridiculous to even to try to predict what that verdict is going to be.

Ted Rowlands, we see all the family members of the Michael Jackson family walking in, the parents, the brothers, the sisters. It would seem to be, at least on the surface, a close-knit, loving family, although we know from all the articles that we've read and all the stories that we've heard, there have been some dysfunctional elements in this family going back many years.

ROWLANDS: Yeah, the face that they have put on successfully is that they are one, they have come together, together to court more times than not. LaToya Jackson went in, one of the first people to go in, and I noticed she was wanded, and that is different. The security today is incredibly high. Each member of the Jackson family, including Michael, was hand-wanded, not just the metal detector. Obviously, a lot of tension, and security is a key aspect of all of this.

Right now, there's a very calm sense of quiet outside the courthouse. Where I could barely hear myself a few minutes ago, now I can hear a pin drop for a block away. There is nobody talking. Everybody is waiting for this audio feed to kick in. And when that happens, though, we don't know. The jury obviously has to come in, and that will take a little bit of time, but any minute now, we expect we will start to hear that audio feed from inside the courtroom, and from there, we'll be able to see through the audio the picture of what's inside that courtroom. I can only imagine the tension level in there right now.

TOOBIN: Ted, are there loudspeakers out there? How are all those hundreds of people going to find out the verdict? Will it just have to be through radios and just the buzz, or will they hear directly themselves? ROWLANDS: They will be able to hear some off-air signals from the media, and I think that is why they're literally pressed up against this fence, which, as you know very well, Jeffrey, lines the outside of the courthouse. They are all pressed up against it. Whether or not somebody has an amplifier, local TV is covering it, local radio, so I'm sure there are some transistor radios out there, or other radios that they'll be able to hear from. So they will hear it, and right now there's a very eerie sense of calm and quiet outside this courthouse. It's hard to articulate, but literally they could hear my voice right now, it is so quiet, people waiting to hear this feed.

BLITZER: Ted, will they give us a sort of a two-minute warning when the audio feed will begin? Or do we just have to wait and hope that the system works?

ROWLANDS: We have to wait and hope it works. In fact, we have plan B in the works right here. If this audio system doesn't kick in, I'll be getting the verdicts read from a producer here. Peter Ornstein has two walkie-talkies up to his ears right now, and that is how we'll get the information out as soon as possible.

They're winging it, to some extent. As you might imagine, there's a lot of logistics to deal with. So we are just waiting patiently until we I think hear this feed. We won't know until it has started.

BLITZER: Is there an accurate number, Ted, how many journalists have gathered in Santa Maria for this Michael Jackson trial? We know not only from the United States and Canada, but from literally around the world, reporters have come to California to cover this trial.

ROWLANDS: Well, 32 countries are represented, more than 2,000 journalists were credentialed to cover this event. The -- in terms of the size, right now we see the most we've seen in terms of journalists here, and they are literally from all around the world. And they have been here since this jury got it. They have been here sporadically throughout the trial, but the media is here in force, and the world right now is watching and hopefully listening to this verdict that we expect at any minute.

TOOBIN: This is a real...

ROWLANDS: The clerk is now in the court, we understand the clerk is in the court, and two minutes, we've been told, until the jury comes in, two minutes until the jury comes in, and presumably two minutes until this audio feed begins from the -- inside the courtroom.

BLITZER: We'll be listening and we'll be watching. Certainly the anticipation building right now, doesn't get much more exciting. If you've been watching this case, it's going to boil down to the next two, three, four, five minutes. What happens?

And Jeffrey Toobin, as we await this verdict right now, give us a thought. TOOBIN: Well, just one of the -- I covered the O.J. Simpson case, and one of the things that I notice is different between the two is, you know, there was greater interest in the United States in the Simpson case, but there really wasn't much international interest in the Simpson case. And what's been so striking about covering Michael Jackson is the degree of worldwide interest. You know, the CNN camera position there, you know, there have been German television, Japanese television, Mexican television in the next booth over, and you know, in many respects, Michael Jackson is a greater star overseas than he is in his rather fading way within the United States. So it is no exaggeration to say, you know, the whole world is watching at this point.



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